My favorite writer in the Bible is the Apostle Paul. If Paul was a murderer and God STILL used him on the scale he did, he can use me despite my sins and failures. If Paul wrestled deeply in sin struggles and God STILL loved him, he can love me too. And after all of that, if Paul can fervently love Jesus with his mind and heart, pointing to him in what he says and does, I want to do that too.

We see Paul’s heart in the book of Romans. I find chapters 7 and 8 especially encouraging where Paul writes about struggling with his sin. He describes how he does what he doesn’t want to do and doesn’t do what he wants to do (Rom. 7:15-20). We tend to idealize biblical characters, but Paul opens up about the fact that he has to literally wage war with his own sin, citing covetousness as an example earlier in the chapter.

Our sin can be intimidating when the scales fall off and we see the true depths of our depravity. We often respond in several different ways to the reality of our sin. The large-scale analogy that I like to think of to compare it to is what happened at Chernobyl. Before the current tragic war, I was blessed to go to Ukraine a couple of times and teach English. One year, many Ukrainians told me about the HBO series on Chernobyl and said they loved it so I decided to watch it for myself. They were right. It is fantastic and I recommend it. Using this analogy, I want to describe three ways we might respond to our sin.

Enter into the Struggle

If there’s one thing that characterizes this series, it’s being told the right thing to do, and choosing the wrong thing to do, over and over, to the devastation of many lives. Sin can be like a nuclear explosion. It’s ugly, messy, and it contaminates everything in its vicinity. At Chernobyl, the nuclear core mysteriously explodes, and we see people respond just the way we do when we see our sin. First, we have the nuclear physicists. They’re the heroes. They acknowledge the problem and enter into the struggle, just as Paul does with his sin in the book of Romans. They’re informed; they know something happened and that it was catastrophic. They know the right thing to do and that it’s embarrassing; it requires some serious sacrifice, lots of work, and if they don’t act immediately and engage with the issue it will get much, much worse. “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13).

Cover it Up

Another way we can respond to sin is to cover it up. We see this in the story of Chernobyl with Gorbachev and the Soviet party. As the physicists tell them what to do, they’re met with push back and denial of the issue. They’re told over and over by the nuclear physicists that they need to take serious action, or the death count will be astronomical. They need to evacuate thousands and thousands of kilometers surrounding the plant; they need to kill all the animals in the area because they’re radioactive; they need to pour sand and boron on the core; but instead of taking the nuclear physicists seriously, the government denies and covers it up. They pretend everything is fine and try to keep up the appearances of their country. Instead of evacuating tens of thousands of kilometers, they only evacuate 30. Likewise, it’s easy to look at the radioactive explosion of sin in our lives and brush it under the rug. But sin never stays hidden and eventually wreaks havoc in our lives. Sin leads to death and separation from God. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:5-8).

Relax God’s Law

Finally, the third way we can respond to sin in our lives is to relax the law—to treat God’s commands like they are less serious than they are. In the series about Chernobyl, we see the story of one woman whose husband was a firefighter who was exposed to extreme radiation and was moved to the hospital in Moscow. We watch the husband go from a smiling, laughing man whose face is a little red to a barely recognizable, swollen, burned, corpse in a matter of days. His wife, against medical advice, follows him to Moscow, bribes her way into the ward where he’s staying, and when they told her not to touch him and only stay 30 minutes because of the extreme radiation exposure, she hugs him, kisses him, and holds his hand on his deathbed for days. While all this seems noble, we have the view of the nuclear physicists urging her from the depths of their souls to get out. At his death, we learn she’s pregnant, and know she and her baby will die from this foolish behavior. Likewise, when we try to relax God’s law, when we treat it as less serious than it is, when we fail to acknowledge that sin really does lead to death, we reap devastating consequences.

Like the physicists at Chernobyl and like Paul in Scripture, we need to engage with the reality of what has happened. As Paul wrestles with his own sin, he rejoices in what Christ has accomplished on his behalf, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!… There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 7:24-25; 8:1-2).

When we engage with our sin, when we repent and turn to God in it even when it’s painful and we don’t want to deal with nuclear fallout, God is faithful and puts our sins to death. Our hope is in Christ. We are not alone in our sins and our mess. God has given us a helper in the Holy Spirit who works in us to face our sin and turn from it. May we all take seriously our condition and rejoice that we have a Savior who rescues us from the destruction of sin and provides us with new life in him.

Author’s Note: Hopefully this serves as a reminder that the current war isn’t the first tragedy Ukraine has faced. Please consider helping with the crisis by donating to the Misson to the World team in L’Viv.

Photo by Kilian Karger on Unsplash

Julianne Atkinson

Julianne is a stay at home mom to two fun boys and former youth ministry staff at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in San Antonio. After attending Covenant College, she worked at several non-profit ministries and followed her husband of ten years around the country for work. He has finally ended up in San Antonio as a staff surgeon in the oral and maxillofacial surgical residency at Fort Sam Houston. They love backpacking and exploring God’s creation, board gaming, jigsaw puzzles, and their two fluffy cats they rescued in Philadelphia.